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Obamacare Is Bad, but What Is the GOP for?

Polls suggest that President Barack Obama’s health care plan is becoming somewhat more popular — even as evidence mounts that it will be astronomically expensive and may cause millions of workers to lose their employer-provided health insurance.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are calling for repeal of the plan — without any realistic hope of doing so and without offering an alternative that would cover anywhere near the 30 million who will get insurance under Obamacare.

Two conservative experts writing in the quarterly journal National Affairs do propose an interesting alternative plan, which they say will not add to federal deficits, but it would cover only about 18 million of the nation’s 50 million uninsured.

The basic design of the plan, by Paul Howard of the Manhattan Institute and Stephen Parente of the University of Minnesota, is to offer vouchers or tax credits to low-income workers to buy basic private insurance in regulated exchanges across state lines.

Over time, they’d eliminate the tax preference for employer-provided insurance and offer vouchers to all workers. They’d also add vouchers to (and eliminate) Medicaid, the federal-state program for poor people.

Howard and Parente anticipate that competition among insurance carriers would lower costs and that the plan could be paid for with a “Buick tax” on midlevel insurance policies.

Their plan was originally developed for a group of Republican Senators led by Bob Corker (Tenn.), but it was never introduced because GOP leaders preferred simply to say “no” to Obamacare.

Corker confirmed the he worked on the plan and tried to entice Democrats, but he distanced himself from the Howard- Parente proposal to "voucherize" Medicare.

The Howard-Parente article also contains a devastating critique of Obamacare, which the authors say fails to address surging health care costs, the underlying cause of rising insurance premiums.

“The new law,” they write, “is likely to inflate premium costs, increase government spending, displace millions of insured Americans and lead to price controls that will hinder innovation and politicize health care.”

The two also criticize Republicans for failing to address health care when George W. Bush was president and the GOP controlled Congress.

Obamacare passed Congress in March on the strength of an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that it would reduce the federal deficit by $143 billion over its first 10 years and nearly $1 trillion in its second. But in May, the CBO changed its estimate, reporting that the law would cost $115 billion more to implement than it previously calculated.

That’s peanuts compared to calculations of former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin — also top domestic policy adviser in Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign — who estimates that Obamacare may increase the federal deficit by $500 billion in the first 10 years and by nearly $1.5 trillion in the following decade.

Holtz-Eakin, in an article in Health Affairs last month written with Michael Ramlet of the Advisory Board Co., a health research firm, noted that Congress purposely left out of its reform bill a $276 billion “doc fix” protecting physicians from scheduled Medicare cuts.

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